Martha Stewart wore a pantsuits to a state dinner in 1999 and was given a thumbs down by Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan.
"Long gown is the only way to go. No fancy cocktail attire," said Susan Cernek, senior fashion and beauty editor at Glamour.com. "This event, because of the somber backdrop, very official setting, you really want to go with a traditional formal evening gown."
Cernek said to avoid embellishment, glitter and cleavage.
"It's understandable to want to be patriotic when choosing your ensemble but it's very important not to go for the Miss America look," she said.
DON'T: Wear the same dress as the first lady
In 2006, first lady Laura Bush donned a stunning red Oscar de la Renta dress for the Kennedy Center Honors at the White House. The only problem -- three other attendees also wore the dress.
Going with the flow, Bush made a last-minute wardrobe change and put on a different dress
"Michelle Obama has a pretty great track record of never having the same look as anyone else in the room," Cernek said. "But there's always the risk of wearing something similar to someone else, including Michelle Obama."
DO: Pile on the accessories.
Cernek said to load up on the accessories to create a unique look and have something to start conversation. "You never know who's going to sit next to you at dinner," she said.
DON'T: Be afraid to make a statement
Sandman notes that too often in Washington, women play it safe and tend toward conservative dress.
"Don't be afraid to make a fashion statement," she said. "But remember you are being photographed by the entire world.
Cernek's rule of thumb: "If you would wear it to a dance party with your friends, it's probably not appropriate for the White House."
DO: Spend a lot of time thinking about logistics and the flow of the evening.
"A lot of planning, a lot of attention to detail. This will go on for months," McBride said. "This will start at approximately the time when the invite is extended to the foreign visitor and accepted."
The meal itself will only last about an hour to an hour and a half, followed by entertainment. So the margin for error in preparing and serving the meal to the 400 guests is very small.
"The dinner has to happen very quickly, a seamless distribution of food," Scheib said.
DO: Plan for and anticipate last-minute glitches
The final 24 hours are a whirlwind of last-minute adjustments, putting out fires and dealing with the inevitable unexpected glitches, said veteran party planners.
Sandman cited examples of things that can come up in the final day: weather-related travel delays, shuffling guests and the seating chart and unknown dietary restrictions.
Given that the final 24 hours before the event can be so hectic, Sandman said the key is allowing enough time to deal with things in advance "because you can't plan for everything."
DO: Put your own stamp on these dinners.
Social watchers are keeping a close eye out to see how a state dinner looks in the Obama White House compared to previous administrations.
"There is such a clear difference in the direction this White House is taking in terms of social events and entertaining," Sandman said, pointing out the recent "Fiesta Latina" on the South Lawn, an evening of musical performances by popular Latin American artists.
"This administration has shown they have a wide range of ways to entertain," she said.